The European Commission’s new president has said she is willing to extend the Brexit deadline for a third time “should more time be required for a good reason.”
Speaking to MEPs the day before her confirmation as the first female Commission president, former German defense minister Ursula von der Leyen said that while “the Withdrawal Agreement concluded with the government of the United Kingdom provides certainty where Brexit created uncertainty … I stand ready for a further extension of the withdrawal date.”
Von der Leyen, whose five-year term of office begins on November 1 when a new Commission also takes over, has also proposed setting up a European unemployment benefit reinsurance scheme to support EU national economies in times of “external shocks,” of which Brexit is one. In 2008—at the height of the financial crisis—the German government prevented massive job cuts through a state-subsidized program to finance reduced working hours.
“We can apply this idea to the whole of Europe,” said von der Leyen. “Should an external shock such as a disorderly Brexit hit two or three countries particularly hard, for example, the unemployment reinsurance scheme could come into force.”
Other priorities she has outlined include pushing Europe to become the first climate-neutral continent in the world by 2050. The EU’s current goal is to reduce carbon emissions by 40 percent by 2030: Von der Leyen has suggested that this target should be raised to 50-55 percent.
“I will put forward a Green Deal for Europe in my first 100 days in office. I will put forward the first ever European Climate Law which will set the 2050 target into law,” she told MEPs.
Von der Leyen has said she also wants to give the European Parliament “the right of initiative,” meaning the Commission would have to legislate on MEPs’ resolutions, thereby giving the European Parliament a stronger say in drafting EU legislation. Currently, only the Commission, as the EU’s executive body, can draft laws.
The United Kingdom—which was originally supposed to leave the European Union on March 29—was given a first Brexit extension up until May 22 if it signed the EU Withdrawal Agreement, or April 12 if it did not. When Prime Minister Theresa May could not rally enough cross-party support among MPs in the U.K. Parliament to back the EU’s deal, the European Council extended the deadline again until October 31.
However, both of the contenders to succeed May—Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt—have vowed to renegotiate the exit deal with the European Union, declaring that the most controversial component, the Northern Ireland backstop, is unacceptable. Johnson, who is vehemently pro-Brexit, has vowed to take the United Kingdom out of the European Union on October 31 “deal or no deal”. Hunt, a remainer, has also vowed to deliver Brexit but has said the October 31 deadline is unrealistic.
The next Conservative Party leader—and U.K. prime minister—will be decided Tuesday by the party’s 165,000 membership, representing less than 1 percent of the electorate. It is widely thought that Johnson, a former foreign secretary under May’s government, will win.